The weekend of August 12 – 14 was quite the epic adventure for my Taking It To The Nub co-host Quinton Brown, my wonderful BOTL Andy Tosetti and myself as we started gathered with 100’s of fellow Drew Estate fans for the Annual Connecticut Barn Smoker. This is one that I personally have been wanted to attend for years as it is like the mecca of US grown cigar tobacco. The event did not disappoint front he moment I steps out of the terminal of Bradley International Airport in Hartford Conn. I just left the muggy sweltering temperatures of central Florida and was now breathing in crisp drier air as I picked up my rental and headed over to check in my hotel. Wow, what difference a week makes as the previous week this area was melting with triple digit temperatures.
Once I was checked, I met up with Quinton and Andy outside the hotel and traded some cigars and fired them up as I took in the clear blue skies. We chatted and shared stories for an hour or so until we had to head over to the pre-party being held at the New England Air Museum just a short drive away.
The Pre-Party Check-in
When we arrived at the parking lot to the museum, the spots were filling up quickly but there was ample parking for all that attended. Checking in was a breeze and we received an amazing swag package and for a fee of $10.00 received a fine assortment of special Drew Estate cigars. You also received the new the Liga Privada 10 Aniversario Connecticut Criollo – which I smoked at the event.
The New England Air Museum
After checking in and gathering your swag and cigars, we then directed to the entrance of the New England Air Museum. Having been in the aerospace business for 22 years of my life as an engineer, air museums are always exciting for me to walk about and the new England Air Museum did not disappoint with a fine collection of restored airplanes and helicopters. There were a lot of helicopters on display especially since Sikorsky, which is based in Stratford, CT, has been a leading producer and supplier of helicopters since the mid 1920’s. The company is now part of the Lockheed Martin Corporation. All in all, it was a fine assortment of historical US made aircraft.
As we exited the museum floor, we entered onto the rear grounds of the property that had even more aircraft on display but also a a well laid out festival setup including a band stage with DJ Eli Spinning Tunes, a tented seating area that included numerous tables and chairs, a couple of cocktail, beer, and wine bars, a BBQ buffet line hosted by Connecticut’s own Bear’s Smokehouse, and even a roasted alligator. Yea, not sure where they find gators in New England, but this is Drew Estate and anything is possible.
The food was amazing and I have to say the gator was prepared much to my liking. Every Barn Smoker has a different Local BBQ house that comes from the local area and Bears did not disappoint.
What is cigar festival without the comradery of many Brothers and Sisters of the leaf. Throughout the evening I met up with some old friends and even made some new ones and that is just what this lifestyle is all about. They even had a barber available in case you wanted to get trimmed up a bit for the festivities.
A Drew Estate event would not be complete with out raising money Cigars for Warriors. The organization had a table where they were selling raffle tickets all night where you could win some incredible prizes.
The Keynote Speech
But before the food was served and the games opened, Jonathan Drew (JD) took to the stage and gave a keynote speech that waked through the 25 + years of the company he founded as a young man straight out of Brooklyn, NY. He spoke about the humble beginning s and hoe he and his team grew the small company into the largest cigar company in the world. Check it out below:
The night drew on and the amazing classic rock cover band – Viva Knievel – straight down from Minnesota, rocked the house until it was time to close the event and do the raffles.
Throughout the evening they had casino tables open where you got $500 worth of play money to spend and whoever turned that in to the most won an amazing prize. I found myself at the Texas Hold-Em table once the casino games opened and pretty much stayed their all evening with my friend Andy. There were also roulette and black jack tables to try your luck.
We ate well, drank well, party and rocked hard at the pre-party but some of us, myself and Q included, found our way over to the Marriot Hotel parking lot where there was a small tent, tables, chairs, and ash trays set up in the back of the parking lot for those that wished to further indulge in the festivities. OK, that took us to about 2AM when Q and I decided it was time to get back to our hotels for some rest and begin the next day of fun at the main event.
The Main Event
The 2022 Connecticut Barn Smoker would not be complete without the opening fun of parking our cars. Parking. The event was held on the Foster Family Farm in South Windsor CT. The parking lot was a dirt field that they just harvested 10’s of thousands broadleaf tobacco plants. It was dusty and and every time a car drove in it kicked up a wave of dirt and dust that cloaked all the cars. I felt sorry for the rental car companies that got these cars back. Seriously, even the inside of the car was covered in dirt dust. As I am writing this, I heard at the Sunday event, when the vehicles were leaving there was such a cloud of dust that a truck went over a ditch and flipped over and to be towed out. OUCH! Trust me, I can understand that completely.
Once you got past the parking area, things were much better and check in moved quickly. It was a beautiful blue sky morning and temperature was in the mid seventies. A perfect start to the day. When you checked in you got more swag and for another $10.00 a collection Drew Estate cigars including a Liga 9, Liga T52, Ratzilla, Velvet Rat, and UF-13. Later in the day you got more cigars as walked the grounds of the Activation Stations, But more on the later.
Now, we go to Barn Smokers for comradery and cigar fun, but if you don’t take in the education sessions you are missing out on the real reason for these event in the first place. Each one tells the story of the native leaf that are featured on the farm that hosts the event and this one as hosted by Foster Family Farms that is a major source of Connecticut Broadleaf. What I really enjoyed was that they had harvested most all of the leaf and had them hanging in the curing barns, which emit the most intoxicating aroma of drying leaf. That aroma is by far one of favorite when it comes to the many processes involved in creating a quality cigar.
They also left one field un harvested till after the event so that we can see the vastness of plants that this farm produces every year.
The attendees were broken up into three groups and each sent to one of three education sessions; farming, curing, and blending. My group attended the farming session first where the farmer explained that the field we were gazing over, has about 70,000 plants ready to be harvested. He also explained, on broad leaf plants, they don’t do a traditional priming (viso, seco, ligero) because all the leaf is huge. They instead cut all the leaf and at once and bring them into the barn to hang and cure.
Another part of the farming session was the explanation of the seeds. They passed around a mason jar full of seeds for us to look at and we were told that there are enough seeds in that jar alone to plant another 70,000 plant crop and a single flower of a plant can produce over 3,000 seeds. They are so tiny that there is about a half a million seeds per ounce. The ones we were looking at are colored pink because they have coated them with fertilizer and color coded them so they know what strain they are planting.
Pedro Gomez Rodriguez, explained how each seed is placed in a starter tray and they grow that indoors to create a seedling that then gets transplanted into the field. It is long and arduous work but in the end that leaf eventually makes it into your cigar about 3 years later – after all the growing, harvesting, cuing, fermenting, bunching, rolling and aging.
A fun fact the farmer told us is that with all the extreme heat they had this year, the plants loved it and he said this is one of the best harvests they have ever had. So look forward to some amazing ligas to hit the market in 3 years form this crop.
The next station was the curing barns where Jonathan Drew explained the process of curing the leaf and eventually sending the leaf to the factory in Esteli, Nicaragua where they are arranged in pilons (larger organized piles of leaf) to ferment for months at a time. This process removes the impurities form the leaf and exhausts out much of the natural forming ammonia. But before that they have to take the harvest and hang the leaf in the barns and rotate the on a regular basis from top to bottom and bottom to top to maintain an even curing as the leaf transforms from green to yellow to brown.
The last session was with Master Blender Willy Herrera who explained the process of blending and ultimately selecting which leaf is used for wrapper, binder and filler.
Food and Drink
After the education sessions, it was time to get lunch which was served once again by Bear’s Smokehouse. There was also numerous liquor stations open and plenty of water and soft drinks throughout the day. You got a bunch of cocktail tickets in your package and I never did go through all of mine, so you will not have to be concerned about not having a drink if you want it. There was even a ticket for a craft specialty cocktail (Smoky Old Fashioned),
Once lunch was done, they opened the gateway to the activation stations. If you are wondering what this is, they are different pods spaced across the land that feature many different Drew Estate Brands. In the coupon book you got a ticket for each and when you hand it in you get a cigar and that ticket goes into the raffle bin for later in the day. The pods are made to be fun so there is always a game or activity to play to get the cigar. Joya de Nicaragua had a die throwing table where you tossed a big die and depending on the number you received a certain Joya product. Herrera Eteli had a dart board where what color you hit got a a particular cigar. I actually hit the bulls eye and received three different Herrera Esteli cigars.
There was also an Undercrown Rolling station where yo got to try your hand at rolling your own cigar which is always a fun task to try. The Subculture Studio pod had artist drawing Caricatures of guests and also deconstructing and reconstruction a pair sneakers to brand it that was later raffled off. There was also a barber on site and also the Deadwood girls and branded motorcycle on display.
Raffles and Cigars For Warriors
As the day came to a close, it was time to do the raffles for both the activation stations and Cigar For Warriors tickets. There was a tone of prizes including mini bars, mini mega ashtrays, and painting and branded cigar storage cases. Of course I did not win anything but that is ok, the fun and memories of this spectacular weekend will live in my mind forever.
Fun and Comradery
Once again I would like to thank Drew Estate for their awesome sponsorship of Stogie Press through the year and inviting me to the Barn Smokers. This one has been the best I have been too and absolute met all my expectations. My guests Quinton Brown and Andy Tosetti equally enjoyed the weekend and as you will read in other articles we continued the fun by visiting cigar lounges throughout Connecticut like Bongo Ron’s in Old Saybrook and “Q” and I even drove up to Boston on Sunday to catch a Red Sox Yankees game and a do a little walking about Boston.
Till next time…. stay smoky my friends ad happy 25th Anniversary to Drew Estate.